New dawn breaks over Marikana

2012-09-22 17:23

Optimism in the air as Lonmin miners head back down the shafts

A cool, late afternoon breeze carries the voices of the ecstatic miners into the stark, blue sky.

They are intoxicated with joy. Their powerful voices rise as the sun paints the sky an impressive orange, as if the gods are joining in celebration.

The earth vibrates to the singing and rhythmic stomping of feet, as if it might crack and swallow the  thousands gathered there.

A few hours earlier, thousands of men and a few hundred women – all miners – arrived at Wonderkop Stadium, dragging their feet, weary after a seemingly endless six-week strike.

They came to hear the outcome of negotiations between their leaders and their employer, Lonmin, over their R12 500 a month pay demand.

“Asiiiiiiiyi! (we are not going!)” they roared in unison before a delegation led by Bishop Jo Seoka of the SA Council of Churches arrived to address them.

Then came the good news: they were finally getting increases of up to 22%.

The worker who grabbed the microphone to express concern that it was not clear how much they would take home after deductions was drowned out by a chorus of jeers.

The increase means the lowest-paid worker will receive R9 611; the highest, R13 022.

“This would have taken us 15 years to achieve with the unions,” a worker representative blared through the PA system, sending the crowd into raptures.

The strike, which claimed 46 lives, took its toll on workers like Sabelo Mavondo (27), many of whom are sole breadwinners supporting families in distant villages.

Mavondo came to Rustenburg because there is no work in his home town of Elliotdale, Eastern Cape.

He is pensive when we meet at his one-room zinc shack in Nkaneng informal settlement, the day after the wage deal is announced.

He is looking forward to donning his overalls, boots, helmet and knee caps, and returning to work.

No work no pay meant he received R500 last month and only sent his wife R200 for their three children and his unemployed younger brother.

He has a few grains of rice left in his shack, and he’s wondering what he will eat.

It’s a common Nkaneng story.

A street away, Masopha Masopha (41) sits and slices up cabbage into a plastic bowl.

He’s been surviving on pap and fried cabbage since the strike began.

The rock-drill operator received R700 last month.

He sent it to his wife in Lesotho for food for their three children and his mother.

He says although times have been hard, the sacrifice was worth it.

Mavondo says: “We couldn’t sleep in our homes because the police were kicking down doors and beating up people. We had no food, no money. Even now we are still hungry. But if you don’t stand up for your rights you will remain poor.”

He prays every day that his children don’t end up on the mines.

“When I go back home, I’m going to sit down with my children and talk to them about education. I want them to go to school. Even this money we got now, I’m going to make sure I save and send them to school. I really don’t want them to go through what I’ve gone through,” he says.

The shooting of his 34 colleagues by police on August 16 haunts him. When asked about that day, he stares ahead and pauses a long time as tears well up in his eyes.

“I do not know, even to this day, how I survived. All I remember is the gunfire. My eyes were burning with teargas and I couldn’t even see where I was running,” he says.

After the shooting, many of Nkaneng’s men spent nights in the veld fearing their homes would be raided by police.

Mavondo says: “My wife was worried about my safety. She was even saying I should come back home. But what would I give my children if I went back home?”

The strike also hit local businesses hard.

Alberto Titos (36), who makes and sells wooden furniture, says he’s only made R300 in the past month – well under the R1 000 he usually makes.

An Ethiopian storekeeper, who wouldn’t give his name, says: “One customer after one hour. Not good.”

But as Thursday dawned, the gloom and tension lifted with the spring sunrise.

On the road opposite the dusty field where Julius Malema was booted out of the area on Tuesday,  thousands walked with a lively spring in their step, heading towards the number 4 shaft.

In the open field near Wonderkop hostel, the miners – looking impressive in white overalls, black boots and white hard hats – chatted excitedly as they waited to board buses to their shafts.

A new dawn had broken over Marikana. The white T-shirts worn the day before bearing the words “In memory of our fallen brothers”, were a reminder that 46 lives were lost for it.

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